SPENDING on private healthcare by Scotland’s NHS has risen dramatically since the health service’s waiting time scandal emerged, newly released figures have revealed.
The amount of NHS funds spent on private treatment for patients rose by nearly 60 per cent last year to more than £40 million, compared with £25m per year in the two previous years.
Figures released under freedom of information laws show that most of the increase in spending was driven by just two health boards: Lothian and Grampian.
The sharp rise in private healthcare expenditure came during the period that saw audits carried out by health boards across Scotland after the discovery of manipulation of waiting lists and misreporting of performance by NHS Lothian in 2011.
Practices included offering patients appointments in England and taking them off the waiting list when they declined.
Figures on private health spending showed that NHS Lothian had predicted it would spend £10m clearing a backlog of patients waiting for treatment. However, the health board actually spent £12.5m last year sending patients for treatment privately.
Spending on private healthcare by NHS Grampian nearly tripled in the last financial year, despite the health board assuring the public that it had no problems with waiting lists.
Yesterday, Lib Dem health spokesman Jim Hume accused SNP ministers of allowing Scotland’s NHS to be “privatised by the back door”.
Under freedom of information legislation, all health boards were asked by the BBC how much they had spent on private healthcare, excluding care homes and hospices, since 2009.
The amount varies from about £200,000 a year for the smallest health boards, including NHS Shetland and NHS Western Isles, to about £3m a year for mainland health boards including Lanarkshire and Fife.
Scotland’s biggest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow, spends the least.
Scotland’s health secretary Alex Neil insisted that overall NHS expenditure on private care was a small proportion of the budget of the service.
He said: “Fewer than 0.5 per cent of patients are being treated in the independent sector as health boards only use this in exceptional circumstances, with most patients treated locally.”
Both Lothian and Grampian health boards defended the expenditure, claiming it had benefited patients on waiting lists.